Quarterback Brandon Weeden's vision for the Cleveland Browns is to follow a path similar to the one he traveled at Oklahoma State.
One of four franchises to never play in a Super Bowl, Cleveland has played in only one playoff game the past 18 years. Weeden, though, experienced how steady progress can produce big results.
“My first year at OSU we won seven, then we won nine, then 11, then 12,” Weeden said. “If we can continue that tradition, a lot of people would be really excited in Cleveland.”
The Weeden era begins Sunday afternoon when the Browns open against Philadelphia.
The Eagles, a Super Bowl contender, are led by electric quarterback Michael Vick. The Browns will be led by a 28-year-old rookie, the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft.
Weeden was named the starter early in training camp. Cleveland team president Mike Holmgren repeatedly has said Weeden is as prepared as any quarterback he's been around to be an instant starter because of his maturity and arm strength.
“They've thrown a lot at me. They threw the entire kitchen sink,” Weeden said. “They thought I could handle it. Yeah, I've made a lot of mistakes. But I've also learned from those mistakes which is the key.”
The major difference between OSU's steady progress and Cleveland's daunting challenge is the Browns are going through yet another rebuilding project.
Weeden is Cleveland's 11th different opening day starting quarterback since the team returned 13 years ago.
If Weeden plays in all 16 games, it would be noteworthy. Only once since the team returned in 1999 has a Browns quarterback (Tim Couch in 2001) started all 16 games.
Because he's part of a 2012 class that features five rookie QB starters, Weeden will be scrutinized.
“He'll go through some growing pains just like he did here,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “But there's not many people that walk the face of the earth that can throw the ball like him. There's just not. There are not that many guys that can sling it like he can. He'll play really well once he gets going.”
Browns are extremely young
Cleveland is blowing it up. Again. Another rebuilding project. This one is from the ground up.
Only five players have been with the Browns more than four years.
Fifteen rookies made the final roster.
With 11 second-year players, half the roster has one year of experience or less.
Leading the offense will be Weeden, who experienced mixed results in preseason. He had three fumbles and struggled at times. The highlight was a 118-yard game against Green Bay. In eight first-half possessions, Weeden directed scoring drives that produced a 16-7 halftime lead.
“It was good for me to go in and struggle a little bit and see how I need to adjust, get used to the speed of the game,” Weeden said. “The guys in the back are really fast. Linebackers are really fast. The pass rush is at a whole different level. It's like a pitcher. You can't miss your spots.”
Some Cleveland fans believe Colt McCoy's mobility should have allowed him to compete for the starting job. But the Browns are committed to Weeden based on his size, arm strength, maturity and accuracy.
Weeden will share the spotlight. Running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick, will carry a heavy load.
It's uncertain how many passes Weeden will throw his rookie season. At OSU he threw for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns last season. He had 564 attempts, more than 43 a game.
Regardless how the final win-loss total shakes out, the Browns hope their two rookies show why the future will be brighter.
“We're all trying to make the Cleveland Browns better, whatever that may be,” Weeden said. “If I throw the ball 10 times a game or 40 times a game, everybody has a role, whatever it takes to make the team better. I want to put the Cleveland Browns in position to win as many games as possible.”